Georgina Nelson has turned her tech business idea into a thriving start-up employing 55 people in four countries just over two years since she started work on it and without any specialised knowledge of the technology sector.
Her success has seen her named as a finalist in the Start-up Founder category at the 2016 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards. The winners will be announced tonight. “I am thrilled to be a finalist and to get recognition for all the blood, sweat and tears put in over the last two and a half years,” says Georgina.
Just three years ago Georgina was working as a lawyer at Which?, the consumer organisation, advising the government and the European Union on tax policies from a consumer perspective.
The idea for her business, truRating, was percolating for a year before she did anything serious about it. “It was the kind of idea you talk about in the pub,” she says, adding that as a lawyer she was always fairly risk averse. It was only when she was at the end of her maternity leave around two and a half years ago that she began doing research on its viability because she wanted to work more flexibly around her daughter and control her own hours. She has always been a hard worker, having worked for Clifford Chance in the past, but when she had her daughter, she thought “if I am going to work hard I want to be in control of the outcome and how the business grows”.
Georgina decided not to return to Which? after maternity leave and to give her idea a go. Her initial research showed shop and restaurant owners were enthusiastic. She worked while her baby slept and once she got her first funding was able to hire a nanny and put more time into building the business.
Georgina wanted to create something which would offer consumers and local traders trusted reviews, but which circumvented the problems of user-generated sites where reviews could be easily rigged, for instance, traders writing their own reviews. Another issue was the problem of representation – that reviews on user-generated sites were usually written by a tiny fraction of total consumers, with the “silent majority” not being represented.
Georgina said it was clear to her that any feedback system had to be very quick and anonymous, to guarantee people’s privacy, and it had to be able to prove people were validated customers. “I noticed that there was room for messages on payment terminals with customers being able to round up their payment for charity. I thought we could get a question on there about the consumer experience with a 0-9 rating. That could feed business analytics for both consumer and merchant,” says Georgina. Customers could then search the analytics for the best rated local Italian restaurant, for instance. The questions could be varied. So far, truRating’s statistics show 88% of people using the system have answered the question asked on the terminal. That equates to a huge data pool.
Each sector is given five core questions they can rotate so they can benchmark against their competitors, for instance, on customer service or value and in a specific location. Businesses can also add their own questions so they can look at whether, say, friendliness of staff is different in different restaurants in their chain. TruRating also enables the traders to collect information on how much a customer giving a rating has spent and how that relates, for instance, to their view of whether the trader offers good value for money. Interestingly, one thing the data has shown is that customers are prepared to pay more money for a restaurant with the right atmosphere. This surprised some restaurateurs who thought service or the quality of the food would be more important. “It can offer the most amazing industry insights,” says Georgina.
Family friendly working
She chose an office which was 15 minutes from her home and hired colleagues who were at a similar stage in life to her, building an office environment where people do not feel torn between work and family. Her husband joined the team after six months, working in the evening and at weekends. At one point in the early days the team worked at McDonald’s when the internet went down with colleagues taking it in turns to walk Georgina’s daughter around.
Once there were around eight members of staff they rented an attic space near Liverpool Street in London. They have moved office three times in the last year and a half and are now in a space which can accommodate up to 60 people. “We have a big growth trajectory,” says Georgina. TruRating now employs 55 people across the world – 35 in the UK, 10 in Australia, eight in Canada and two in the US. The business launched in Australia because one of Georgina’s old friends with a data retail background was living there and in fact she won’t be able to attend the FDM everywoman Awards because she has to do a press launch for her business in Australia this week. The Canada office is run by a friend of someone on the team with a similar background who has experience in other start-ups. “They are trusted people who come through our networks,” says Georgina. Some 90% of her staff have been recruited on recommendations of people known to members of the team after they have been interviewed by Georgina and her husband.
One of the challenges is the delays due to payment companies integrating the technology into their systems and testing it. Many of the companies truRating is dealing with are major players in the retail and hospitality industry which can also slow things down. “What we do seems simple, but it is very complicated from a technical architecture perspective and it requires a number of people to collaborate. Also the UK market is very complex and fractured,” says Georgina.
Funding initially came from team members, but angel investors have also provided investment. Georgina has been careful to go for investors with the right experience in marketing, data and technology as she is aware of her own lack of technical or retail expertise.
The next six months will be spent on getting to market as quickly as possible. Georgina admits she has had to work hard on the business, but being in charge of her hours means she can spend a lot of time with her daughter. What she has sacrificed is her social life and any hobbies. “Both my husband and I are home with her most nights when I am not travelling. That is pretty special. I can’t imagine going back to being employed,” she says.
In fact, she laughs that the worst part of her job is when she has to revert back to her old job and read a legal contract. She has delegated a lot of the legal work by hiring a lawyer from Which? who is a young dad and works part time from home.
“I know how important offering something that works for people’s families is. I trust everyone to work hard and they all own shares or options. They feel a sense of ownership and they know they will benefit if we do well. We say we are the truFamily. It works fantastically for us,” says Georgina.